the Time Being’ (2003) - Rachel Cornish
The following includes excerpts from a commentary written
to summarise the inspiration behind some of Rachel Cornish’s
Heidegger's philosophy on ‘to
‘We do not know what ‘Being’
means. But even if we ask, ‘What is “Being”?,
we keep within an understanding of the ‘is’,
though we are unable to fix conceptionally [sic] what that
(Heidegger 1962, p.25)
One of Heidegger’s main quests was to understand more
fully, the meaning of ‘to be’. Already a question
arises about the word ‘is’ and its use. The terms
‘he is’ and ‘a stone ‘is’, differ
fundamentally in that when used in relation to a human being,
part of the ‘is’ is referring to consciousness.
Heidegger’s main work, ‘Being and Time’,
was first published in 1927. He explores in this the meaning
of ‘to be’ in relation to human ‘being’.
In the 1920’s Heidegger spent much of his time living
in a small wooden house in the woods examining ‘being’
while he went about his everyday activities. By examining
actions such as the hammering of a nail, he slowly built up
‘We are ourselves the entities to be
(Heidegger 1962, p.42)
by Heidegger’s approach, Cornish set out to look at
her own being.
‘I was finally at a point at which
I was able to create work. I began with looking at my own
being, using mundane everydayness, just as Heidegger did
himself in his attempt to analyse being.’
It was at this point that the video ‘In Memory of Being
and Time’ was made. This is a work in which the relationship
between what has already happened and what is going to happen,
becomes the subject.
Dasein means ‘being there’ (or ‘being here’).
Heidegger used dasein to represent the human experience of
being (being there in the world, aware of being)
‘In determining itself as an entity,
Dasein always does so in the light of a possibility which
it is itself and which, in its very being, it somehow understands.’
(Heidegger 1962, p.69)
At any point dasein is dealing with the past, from where it
has come from. This Heidegger refers to as ‘Throwness’.
Simultaneously dasein is always ahead of itself projecting
itself into the future. This Heidegger refers to as ‘projection’
or ‘possibility’. Fallenness is the word he uses
to encompass what is happening in the present i.e. what life
is presenting and concerns that arise. Existence is therefore
a state of being thrown into possibility.
‘Dasein bursts asunder into past, present
, and future and then pulls itself together again - more
like a piece of elastic than beads on a string.’
(Inwood 1997, p.91)
This idea of ‘throwness’ and ‘possibility’
or ‘projection’, led to the making of the piece,
‘I am the point that has arrived from
where it has been and I am the point from which I am going.
I am doing all this simultaneously.’
(Cornish 2002a, p.32)
The work ‘In Time’ was also inspired by the ideas
of throwness and projection. The point of light spells out
the word ‘now’ repeatedly, but the viewer cannot
make sense of this without remembering what has preceded it,
and what is likely to follow. The word itself raises questions
of what is meant by ‘now’.
‘If it is repeated over and over again
then not only is it remembered, but it is projected and
will therefore express what I am trying to demonstrate as
past and future projections actually create now - even though
the word itself never appears.’
(Cornish 2002a, p.32)
Without the throwness and projection, Dasein does not exist,
just like the ‘now’ in ‘In Time’
‘Just as Dasein is already its “not
- yets”, and is its “not - yet” constantly
as long as it is, it is already its end too.’
(Heidegger 1962, p.289)
Some of Heidegger's sentences (as interpreted) indicate the
limits of language in defining something that evades definition.
‘The Tao that can be talked about is
not the true Tao’
(Lao Tzu 1993, p.27)
Dasein is a complex idea, because what lies between past and
future cannot be independent from the same. Being and time
are together. Dasein ‘is’ in time.
‘Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
(Eliot 1969, p.13)
Heidegger studied Dasein not as separate to but alongside
time, which he referred to as the horizon upon which the past
(throwness), the present circumstances (Fallenness) and the
future (projection or possibility) lie.
‘Time must be brought to light - and genuinely conceived
as the horizon for all understanding of Being and for any
way of interpreting it. In order for us to discern this,
time needs to be explicated primordially as the horizon
for the understanding of Being, and in terms of temporality
as the Being of Dasein, whilst understanding Being’
(Heidegger 1962, p. 39)
The work ‘Simultaneity’ is quite a complex piece
based on manipulating linear time as the characteristics of
time are explored. There are many layers of interpretation,
but fundamentally the idea of throwness, possibility and Fallenness
are placed on the horizon of time, which in this video piece
is itself then reversed.
‘This will place the viewer in a position
in which they do not know whether or not I actually walked
forward into the house, of whether I played part of the
tape backwards. This will truly demonstrate the idiosyncrasy
of time in a visual way.’
(Cornish 2002a, p.36)
One question that arose during the making of this piece was:
‘If I am both where I’ve been
and where I’m going , does it matter which way I play
(Cornish 2002a, p.36)
It is of interest to note here that in the 13th Century, Dogen,
a Buddhist philosopher and Zen master said that because time
embraces the past, present and future, there is no reason
why it should not proceed forwards or backwards. (Heine, 1983).
This may not apply to the physical sequence of events, but
does to the experience of such in the present.
One difficulty that presents itself is that of linear time
versus non linear time. Heidegger approaches this first by
looking at Dasein as that which cannot be less than all the
elements and concerns of the person that ‘is being’.
‘When, however, we come to the question
of man’s Being, this is not something we can simply
compute by adding together those kinds of Being which body
soul, and spirit respectively possess.’
(Heidegger 1962, p.74)
Dasein cannot be reduced to body, mind or consciousness because
all of these together are part of Dasein. It is this that
creates the tension between the view of time as linear and
the view of time as non - linear. What happens in Dasein is
both linear and non - linear. Events and thoughts for example
have a sequential order, but memory and projection draw on
times past or futures visualised. All this happens simultaneously,
and cannot be separated as one or the other. There is a synchronicity
of mind, body, place and circumstances (or ‘fallenness’)
Western logic does not readily lend itself to this concept.
At this point it is of interest to look at philosophies and
spiritual disciplines that have similarities to Heidegger's
ideas. His prior interest in these areas probably influenced
his line of thought and use of terminology.
The pre - Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus, the Taoist master,
Lao Tzu, and the (Gautama) Buddha are all supposed to have
lived around 500 B.C., although the accuracy of this in regards
to Lao Tzu is unknown.
Influences from all these sources can be detected in Heidegger’s
writings, in particular in regard to ‘dasein’.
Heraclitus, known as the philosopher of ‘flux’
and for his thoughts on the ‘unity of opposites’,
wrote numerous documents, most of which no longer exist. There
is however a remaining set of Greek writings referred to as
(inconsistently numbered) fragments, which are supposed to
be his writings as far as history can determine. He is concerned
with the principle of the unity of opposites. Heidegger's
thoughts on throwness and projection could similarly be viewed
as oppositions which are unified in dasein.
In the 1920’s Heidegger attempted to translate the ‘Tao
Te Ching’ (writings of Lao Tzu). These writings are
part of the early formations of Taoism. The writings address
opposites and the way in which they affect each other in terms
of the ‘Tao’ or the ‘way’ which is
neither and both.
The philosophy of Buddhism is primarily based on the premise
that all things are impermanent and the way of being is referred
to as the ‘path’. The Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna
(About 150 A.D.) referred to this path as the ‘middle
way’, in which phenomena neither exist, nor do not exist.
In his Shobogenza (philosophical/ Buddhist writing), Dogen
refers to being as time.
‘Time itself is already none other
than all beings, beings are none other than time’
(Heine 1983, p.139)
Using the analogy of climbing a mountain, Dogen points out
that past present and future are inseparable. This differs
in essence from other Buddhist groups who believe that the
presence is comprised of tiny moments which arise and pass.
There are many ways of thinking.
The Hindus too embrace past present and future as a whole.
The sound ‘Om’ (AUM) is a mantra which is said
to be the sound of infinity, the unity of birth and death.
It is made up of three base notes, ‘A’ which symbolises
past, birth and creation; ‘U’ which symbolised
presence, balance and preservation; and ‘M’ which
symbolises future, death and destruction. The mantra is about
everything being a unified whole.
There are three things that happen in Dasein. Firstly, an
opposition is set up (throwness and projection), secondly
this is in a constant state of flux, and thirdly, what happens
between past and future becomes significant and undefinable.
‘The experience of being itself is
acknowledged by Buddhists to be beyond language’
(Hart 1994, p.5)
‘Being in Om’ is a work that is set up to create
a physical environment in which oppositions become clearly
apparent, as the monitors face each other and the mantra ‘Om
is heard continuously, but the end is never heard without
the beginning, and vice versa. The mouth opening on one monitor
mirrors the mouth closing on the opposite monitor.
‘Thus Something and Nothing produce
The difficult and the easy complement each other;
The high and the low incline towards each other;
The long and the short off-set each other;
Note and Sound harmonise with each other;
Before and after follow each other
(Lao Tzu 1963, pp.42-43)
future nor past can exist alone’
(Lao Tzu 1993, p.28)
‘Turning back is how the way moves’
(Lao Tzu 1963, p.101)
Hwa Yol Jung went as far as to say that
‘Heidegger’s Being is really
the Chinese tao, for which there is no comparable term in
(Jung 1987, p.218)
This is rather a sweeping statement, but it certainly appears
to be the case that Heidegger’s encounters with Lao
Tzu’s writings has a bearing on the orientation of his
own work. So too did Heraclitus, two of whose fragments read
‘The beginning is the end’
(Heraclitus 2001, p.45)
‘All things come out of the one, and the one out of
(Russell 1946, p.60)
examining the state of flux or ‘becoming’ Heraclitus
‘Nothing ever is, everything is becoming’
(Russell 1946, p.64)
Heidegger similarly writes,
‘All is flux. Hence there is no being.
All ‘is’ becoming’
(Heidegger 2000, p.102)
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that all is flux,
and all is not flux. As soon as language is used, limits are
imposed. Using this idea, ‘You Cannot Step into the
Same River Twice’ is a piece that has been based on
one of Heraclitus’s fragments,
‘You cannot step into the same river
twice, for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you.’
(Warner 1958, p.26)
This piece was made to demonstrate the impossibility of being
fixed in time and how everything is in flux, or is ‘becoming’
all the time. The ‘river past’ and the ‘river
future’ just keep on flowing and the viewer is part
of this flow. At the same time the word ‘Same’
in this piece creates an opposition in that it is the ‘same’
river and it is not the ‘same’ river. Whether
or not Heraclitus’s original writings could be interpreted
in this way is not clear. Different languages can be analysed
differently. Nevertheless as it stands this parallels the
synchronicity of linear and non - linear time. ‘Becoming’
is necessarily ‘both’ simultaneously. It projects
itself into the future whilst doing so progressively along
the same linear sequence.
there is something happening between past and present which
both ‘is’ and ‘is not’. It is not
surprising that ‘dasein’ has been equated with
the ‘Tao’. Perhaps it could equally be referred
to as the ‘middle way’.
‘The meaning of the word ‘Being’ is the
emptiest and thus embraces everything’
(Heidegger 2000, p.80)
The Buddhist Lama Tsongkhapa and Buddhist Master Hua say something
‘Unborn emptiness has let go of the
extremes of being and non-being. Thus it is both the centre
itself and the central path. Emptiness is the track on which
the central person moves.
(Batchelor 1997, p.75)
‘The middle way is neither emptiness
(Hua 2001, p.1)
Similarly in Taoism, Chuang Tzu says,
‘The Way cannot be thought of as being,
nor can it be thought of as non- being’
(Leaman 2000, p.10)
Lao Tzu compared this to the space within a vessel. It is
nothing and something. It has no substance, but its emptiness
‘If you mould a cup you have to make
a hollow. It is the emptiness within it that makes it useful.’
(Lao Tzu 1993, p.46)
The piece ‘In Time’ was made to bring the viewers
attention to ‘now’, and to raise questions about
what that means and how it is in time. The piece demonstrates
the tension between emptiness and existence as the word ‘now’
never appears, and yet is there all the time because of how
we ‘are being’ in terms of Heidegger's ‘Dasein’.
There is no doubt that Heidegger’s ideas in relation
to Dasein resonate quite strongly with the disciplines discussed
above. The degree to which he has been influenced is unclear.
It could be that he was drawn to these areas because of his
the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless,
Neither from nor towards; at the still point,
there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement,
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.
Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.
Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance,
and there is only the dance.’
(Eliot 1969, pp.15-16)
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